Farrow to be honored in Athens

sports@macon.comMay 19, 2014 

Juan Farrow, who is a teaching tennis professional, has called Macon home since 1990.

He said he played several satellite events in Macon during his playing career, and, when he went into teaching, he thought the competition for business would be less here than in a place like Atlanta. During his more two decades in Macon, he estimates that he has given more than 15,000 lessons.

People swear by his instruction. One of his pupils says he has the best tennis drills in Macon, if not the entire state of Georgia. Farrow says he likes to keep his students moving during lessons, and, because of that, he does a lot of screaming and yelling.

Juan learned his tennis in his home town of Lynchburg, Virginia, from the legendary Dr. Robert Walter “Whirlwind” Johnson, who also coached three-time Grand Slam champion Arthur Ashe and the iconic Althea Gibson, who won five Grand Slam titles. Johnson was the founder of the American Tennis Association junior development program for African-American youths.

Farrow was only 4 when Johnson put a broomstick in his hand and taught him to hit the ball with it. His theory was that if he could hit a ball with a broomstick he would have no trouble hitting the ball in the middle of strings with a racket. Under Johnson’s tutelage, he became the top-ranked junior in the nation in 1971.

Following Johnson’s death in 1971, Farrow moved to St. Louis to live and work with tennis coach Richard Hudlin, which was the same path Ashe had taken back in the early 1960s. Farrow once again earned the top junior ranking in the United States in 1973. Ashe provided financial support for Farrow to compete in junior events when he was in St. Louis.

Farrow beat John McEnroe in four of five matches they played while as juniors, which included one in 1977 about four weeks before McEnroe reached the Wimbledon semifinals. That was the final meeting ever between the two.

Hudlin had wanted Farrow to play college tennis at UCLA, Ashe’s alma mater. But Farrow turned down a scholarship offer from the Bruins and chose Southern Illinois-Edwardsville instead.

Farrow had an incredible career as a collegiate player at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. He will be inducted into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Men’s Tennis Hall of Fame in ceremonies Wednesday night in Athens along with six other individuals.

His accomplishments at SIU-E show that he is definitely worthy of Hall of Fame recognition. He was an eight-time ITA All-American while in college, in Division I singles in 1980 and from 1977-80 an ITA All-American in both Division II singles and doubles. He was a three-time national champion, winning titles in 1977, 1978 and 1980, and led SIU-E to back-to-back national championships. He was also a member of the U.S. under-21 Davis Cup team.

Following his collegiate playing career, Farrow gave professional tennis a try but was never able to get a world ranking higher than 80 and for most part was ranked around the 150 mark. Unable to secure sponsors to keep him on the tour, he turned to teaching, which led him to Macon 24 years ago. He teaches about 99 percent of his lessons at the John Drew Smith Tennis center as an independent contractor.

In addition to Farrow, this year’s ITA Hall of Fame class includes players Matt Anger of Southern Cal and Alex Kim of Stanford, coaches Billy Chadwick of Mississippi, Tiimon Corwin of Kalamazoo College and James Wadley of Oklahoma State, and contributor Doug Conant, former president and CEO of the Campbell Soup Company.

Bobby Pope is the executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Email him at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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